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Why hashtags are the social media holy grail, and how to use them
Social media is full of new trends and features that you need to incorporate into your activity to stand a chance of attracting an audience, engaging users, staying in line with your competitors and securing the results you desire.
One feature that has been a long-time staple of social media are hashtags. They were first popularised on Twitter in the late 2000s but continue to be used across many social media platforms today to curate content and connect posts around trending topics.
If you aren’t already using hashtags, you should be. We explore why hashtags are an integral part of your social media posts and how to use them effectively to maximise engagement.
Why use hashtags?
Many benefits come from incorporating the appropriate hashtags into your posts. We’ve listed some of the most prominent.
They help people find your content
Hashtags are commonly used as a curation tool on social media. This means that if someone were to search for a specific hashtag, they would be able to view every post that features it on that channel.
By using relevant hashtags in your content, anyone searching has a better chance of coming across your business, which can help you uncover potential leads. Using hashtags based on similar topics can also allow people to understand what your business is about, driving brand awareness and creating expectations.
They can double engagement
When you use the right hashtags, users are more likely to engage with your posts, especially if it connects to a topic they are interested in. Findings from Twitter suggest posts with hashtags get up to two times the engagement of those that don’t.
By increasing engagement, you can increase the chances of a click to your website or someone choosing to follow you – which fuels conversion potential.
As hashtags curate content, they can be handy for research. Once you identify the hashtags you want to target for your business, you can search these into various social media platforms to determine what content is already there. From here, you can shape your efforts to stand out from the crowd.
This can also cover social listening, enabling you to gauge your audience’s views and questions around the topic, so you can mirror this in your activity to provide value. This could fuel your content strategy as well as your social media plans.
For brand awareness
One possible inclusion to your social media posts is branded hashtags. These differ from regular hashtags as their purpose isn’t to join existing conversations but instead coin new hashtags using your brand name or slogan.
The benefit of branded hashtags is that they can improve awareness. This will work best if the hashtag goes viral or other users share it (such as when entering a competition, leaving feedback, or talking to other customers). When people use your hashtags, more people may come across your business through their posts. It’s also a great way to collect user-generated content for your brand that you can repurpose elsewhere.
They’re always evolving
The nature of hashtags means they are constantly evolving. As people start new conversations, they’ll use relevant hashtags to reflect their thoughts. Social media platforms like Twitter have a function that highlights which hashtags are being used most at that time, reflecting what interests the public.
You can understand the online conversations and adapt your content to jump on the trend by reviewing popular hashtags. This will draw attention to your brand and further promote awareness.
They provide context
Hashtags can help ground your content with context that may not appear in the copy. For example, if you use a hashtag like #WorldEnvironmentDay, it will explain to a reader why you are posting content about the environment. This may seem random otherwise, especially if you don’t post about that topic typically.
Hashtags are also often used to disclose when content is paid or sponsored, allowing you to comply with advertising standards and provide a crucial clarification to users.
They allow you to contribute to conversations
When people search or use a hashtag, they typically want to join discussions on a specific topic. Often, they serve to deliver live commentary for an occurring event or news story. You can join these conversations by using hashtags, allowing your business to engage with others.
From here, you can build a brand presence online, encourage users to find out more about you and even create communities with those who have similar interests. It’s also a great way to showcase leadership in the industry by providing expertise and exciting commentary.
Using hashtags on each social media platform
Most social media platforms now utilise hashtags, but each has its own best practice. Read our simple overview of hashtags on each channel below.
- Best to use 1 or 2 hashtags per tweet
- Can be used anywhere in your posts, though typically used at the end or in the main text
- May also be used in your bio to showcase your business values/topics
- Best to use 5 to 10 hashtags per post. Can also use up to 10 in your stories
- Can be used anywhere in the text part of your post, though typically used at the end. Often used in comments on posts and profile bios too
- Ability to follow hashtags, with content using them appearing in your feed
- Best to use 1 or 2 hashtags per post
- Can be used anywhere in the post, as well as your profile bio
- Best to use 1 or 2 hashtags per tweet
- Can be used anywhere in the written part of a post, including comments
- Often used in private groups to collate post themes
- Best to use up to 5 hashtags
- Placed anywhere in the written caption of your video
- Can follow specific hashtags
- Best to use 2 to 5 hashtags per post
- Used in a pin description
- Use 2 to 3 hashtags
- Can be used in video titles or description
- Using more than 15 hashtags may be considered by the algorithm as spam and potentially ignored
How to use hashtags effectively
Using hashtags will drive results, but only if you use them correctly. We’ve given five easy tips to ensure you are using hashtags effectively.
Research relevant hashtags to your business
The first step to using hashtags is to find those relevant to your business that people are already using. Start by thinking about the topics related to your brand (such as what you sell or what your content is about). Then, search on them in your chosen platform to find out how popular they are based on the number of results returned.
Another option is to review trending topics (as shown on Twitter), as this indicates the most popular hashtags at that time. If they relate to your business, it’s worth creating a post to join the conversation.
You can also look at your competitor’s or other industry leaders’ hashtag use for inspiration. If all else fails, there are online tools that will generate hashtags for you.
Keep it simple
Simplicity is key. Don’t use special characters or spaces, as these can cause your hashtags to be misread.
It’s worth reviewing how the hashtag is used by others and ensuring you copy this precisely so that you can successfully join conversations. If you make a spelling error, it will cause your content not to appear in the search, which will diminish results.
It’s good practice to capitalise every separate word in the hashtag. This makes it easier for people to read. It’s also vital for accessibility so that audio readers can distinguish each word of the hashtag when relaying them for visually impaired users.
Identify appropriate hashtags for your content
When you use a hashtag, it should be related to the content of the post you are using it on. This means that anyone who comes across it is rewarded with value in a topic they are invested in, making them more likely to be interested in your business.
Don’t be tempted to use a hashtag just because it’s trending if it has no relevancy to your post, as it will likely get little engagement and come across as spam. Similarly, avoid hashtags like #followback or #follow4follow that seek to raise follower counts inauthentically.
Use them sparingly
We’ve already listed the optimal number of hashtags to use on each platform. While it may seem like using as many as possible will increase the chance of you being seen in different searches and conversations, it often comes across as desperate.
If you cram in hashtags or use them for every word, it can make a post hard to read, which will see engagement fall. Instead, select relevant and popular hashtags to avoid overwhelming readers.
Finally, a hashtag aims to contribute to a topic so other users can view the activity and react. When using a hashtag, you need to ensure you are adding value so that anyone reading it wants to engage with your post and, by extension, business.
The best way to do this is to offer a fresh perspective or expert commentary. Avoid regurgitating what is already available – while this might give you an excuse to use the hashtag, it’s unlikely to attract anyone to your brand.
Your ultimate aim is to differentiate from the competition while providing content that suits the needs of your target audience.
Hashtags can be incredibly powerful in driving results on social media – including increased engagement and conversion.
However, it’s essential to use relevant hashtags to access the rewards. This means researching to build a bank of hashtags that connect to your business and content while keeping an eye on trending discussions you can contribute to.
Then, use those hashtags sparingly, correctly and in keeping with the best practice of that social media channel.
By doing so, you can ensure your content gets seen and interacted with, helping to improve your KPIs and achieve social media goals.